By Don Simpson | August 5, 2015
Director: Thomas Wirthensohn
Thomas Wirthensohn’s Homme Less will certainly alter most people’s preconceptions about homelessness. Upon our introduction to Mark Reay, it is inconceivable to fathom that the fifty-something man clandestinely sleeps under a tarp on the roof of a Manhattan apartment building. That is because Reay is all about keeping up appearances.
Reay works as a professional fashion photographer, covering high-profile runway shows in Manhattan; he also does some acting on the side. The problem is that Reay cannot afford the lavish lifestyle of a fashion photographer and/or actor on his freelance wages. Reay knows that he needs to be able to hobnob with the rich and beautiful in order to continue to get work, but he cannot afford to schmooze with Manhattan’s elite and pay rent.
No one Reay works for or networks with would ever guess that he is homeless. Impeccably dressed, Reay’s wardrobe serves as a camouflage that allows him to blend right in with his surroundings. His membership at the local YMCA not only keeps him in great physical condition, but it also provides him with ample locker space, as well as a place to shower and do laundry.
Wirthensohn’s documentary will hopefully alter the political discourse on homelessness. Reay has two part-time careers that are perceived to be lucrative, but he still cannot afford to pay rent. So, Homme Less should also open our eyes to the truth behind the glamorous facade that these and other artistic careers present. Artists of all sorts — photographers, actors, models, writers, painters — are forced to pretend that they are successful in order to have any chance at actually succeeding. It is all a house of cards, just waiting to be blown over by the big bad wolf of financial reality. In most cases, these artists give up before the charade is shattered; otherwise, they end up destroyed by failure. This is all thanks to the competitive drive and risk-taking that are fundamental precepts of Capitalism.
What is most surprising about Wirthensohn’s documentary is that it reveals the truth about Reay. Without the illusion of financial success, will Reay still have career opportunities? Homme Less is film that could not have been made without Reay putting a hell of a lot of trust in Wirthensohn, giving him unbridled access to his secrets; but it also seems to catch Reay at a juncture in which he wants to do something about his circumstances. Participating in this film was presumably a huge risk for Reay, but after sleeping on a roof for so long, he is probably ready for his life to change.